Why You Shouldn’t Put Your TV Over The Fireplace

That big, blank space over the fireplace mantle is just sitting there. It looks empty and bare. And it’s just about the right size for a big flat screen TV.

It’s a good idea, right?

Nope, it’s a bad idea. Here’s why, and how to do it right.

It’s Unhealthy

From a health standpoint, that spot over the mantle is too high. It’s an uncomfortable angle to watch TV from, especially sitting on a low couch or a comfy lounge chair. Seriously, it’s bad for your eyes and your neck.

That’s because your eyes were designed to be “relaxed” looking at a slight downward angle – when your eyes are looking up at your TV for more than a few minutes at a time, your eye muscles begin to tire, which leads to eyestrain.

Same for your neck – it’s not meant to be tilted back for long periods without proper support. That’s why there’s a headrest in your car and why your father always told you to sit up straight. And why no one sits in the front row of a movie theatre unless every other seat is taken.

Tired eyes and a sore neck – that’s not why you got a big tv.

Yikes – just because you can put the TV there doesn’t mean you should!

It’s Bad Design

A while ago I visited an out of state friend who’d just bought a home. One of the walls in the family room had a stone fireplace in the center, with bookshelves on either side. The house was built 20 years before big TVs were popular, so the designer hadn’t provided room for one.

But above the fireplace, in the spot originally designed for a painting or a family portrait (I know, we don’t have one of those, either), five and a half feet off the floor and tilted forward ten degrees, my sports-crazy friend had hung a 72-inch television.

It’s giant piece of technology shoehorned into a traditional wall arrangement; to say it looked out of place is an understatement.

In a traditional family room like his, the fireplace is supposed to be the focal point; all the other elements of the room are subordinate to it. A TV in that room has to be much smaller – small enough to fit on one of the bookshelves.

Because when the TV is turned on, you don’t want it to visually dominate the room. And when it’s turned off, you don’t want to be left with a big black hole on the wall that ruins the aesthetics of the space.

Here’s a good way to put a big TV in a family room – now the room works for conversation and watching TV

It’s Socially Inappropriate

A great big TV is an attention-grabber. Putting it right there up above the fireplace in a social space like your family room tells everyone that TV is more important – at least in this room – than conversation.

That’s a bad thing in a culture where we already have too much “screen” time taking the place of “face” time.

My friend’s ginormous TV belongs in a room where TV watching is the main event. Sometimes that’s a “theatre” room, but even that’s less popular that it used to be, because sitting in the dark with the TV on isn’t very social, either.

A much better idea is to put the big TV in a rec room, where you can play games, chat with your friends and family, and watch the game, all at the same time. And if you want to turn down the lights for the theatre experience you can do that, too.

There’s nothing wrong with a TV in the family room, just not the great big one.

It’s a Waste of Technology

Your big TV needs a setting that’s good enough to take advantage of all the features built into it. If you’re just watching local news and Seinfeld reruns, no problem. But for the latest Star Wars movie, your too-small, acoustically-poor family room won’t cut it.

That means you’ve got to move it to somewhere else in the house – hopefully a room designed for watching TV, where you can get the height, viewing distance, acoustics, and lighting just right.

Viewing distance is a function of the size and type of TV, which usually results in a very different furniture arrangement that what’s possible in a typical family room.

This TV is mounted at just about the right height – and the dark background makes it a little less visible when it’s turned off.

Details and Dimensions

Now you know what not to do, here’s the right way to locate your big screen TV.

Let’s start with height. Most comfy seating is around 18” off the floor; from there to your eyes is another 24” or so. So looking straight ahead at the TV puts the center of it about 42” off the floor. If it’s a little lower than that, fine – you’re more comfortable looking slightly downwards anyway.

You can easily get that height with a TV wall mount or a nice stand that also holds the cable box, DVD player, and sound bar.

What’s the right distance to sit from the TV? You want to be close enough to see all the great detail in today’s higher-resolution TVs, and far enough away that everyone gets a decent viewing angle.

I like the formula Samsung recommends: viewing distance (in inches) divided by 3 = recommended TV size (in inches, diagonally). Or conversely, TV size in inches times 3 equals viewing distance. That’s not absolute, of course, but it’s a good starting point.

Some manufactures suggest that for the best high-def units, viewing distance divided by 2.5 is good – a little closer, but ok if the TV picture still looks great.

Just about perfectly placed – the TV’s there when you want it, but when you don’t, it’s hardly noticeable

So back to that 72” flatscreen I mentioned – 72 inches times 3 is 216 inches, or 18 feet; 72 times 2.5 is 180 inches or 15 feet.  That’s a very large TV room either way.  You could sit even closer of course, but unless you have space to spare, a smaller TV is probably a better idea. 10 to 12 feet is about as far as most people get from the TV, which calls for a diagonal measurement between 40 and 48 inches (still a big TV).

Improvements in technology are allowing TVs with great pictures to get bigger and bigger. But technology doesn’t make big TVs easier to fit your home design.

That’s up to you.


Need expert Residential Architectural advice for your new home or remodeling project? Contact Richard Taylor, AIA at Richard Taylor Architects.

8 Comments
  • Paul
    Reply

    I really appreciate this information ,this will stop a lot of arguments with family and friends and clients. LOL
    thanks
    Paul Bost

    09/19/2017 at 8:52 am
  • Kim Starr
    Reply

    And here I thought all of those people putting their TV’s above their fireplace were being smart! It was a two-fer: you didn’t have to decorate the space and you had a prominent place for the the TV. Glad I didn’t make that move. My TV is still to the side (like in the “good” pictures). Don’t know yet if I have the right size TV there, but I’ll just be content and move on. Thanks for the great information.

    09/19/2017 at 11:48 am
  • Karl Koning
    Reply

    Third exception. Where seating is made up of recliners (or bedroom) and people don’t want to look at the screen between their feet with their chin in their chest. As the angle of the back changes so does the comfort angle of the neck relative to the screen wall.

    09/19/2017 at 1:41 pm
  • Richard Blackwell
    Reply

    Amen to no TV over fireplace. Considering the TV on an opposite or side wall from the fireplace, how can the seating be arranged to view both the fireplace and TV?

    09/19/2017 at 6:18 pm
  • Being a mason who installs stone on fireplaces in lovely homes, I can think of a couple more reasons why not to 😉

    09/22/2017 at 3:08 pm

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